“Welcome,” said Sarah, “to the Pit.”
Naomi looked around her. She wasn’t sure how she had expected a space between realities to look, but it hadn’t been anything like the empty room they stood in now. Fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed above in a drop ceiling, casting a sickly blue-white pallor on the yellowed walls and carpet.
“This is the space between realities?”
“Yeah,” said Sarah.
“Why does it look like a building that hasn’t been renovated since the eighties?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest,” said Sarah. “I’ve wondered that too. My guess is a building was pulled in here somehow and got corrupted on the way down.”
“Why corrupted?” said Naomi. “It’s kind of creepy, but it looks like a normal shitty room to me.”
“The building doesn’t have an exit as far as I’ve found. There are multiple floors but no stairs,” said Sarah. “All the rooms seem to be the same size and shape, with the same four doors and gross carpet, like one room was copied over again and–“
Sarah stopped, a nervous look crossing her face.
“What is it?” said Naomi.
“I didn’t think they’d find me. Not right away. They must have already been nearby when the portal opened.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We should go,” said Sarah. “We need to go.”
“Go? What do you mean we need to go? We just got here.”
“There’s a device on the inside pocket of my coat,” said Sarah. “It looks like a–what do you call it?–a little remote control. I need you to grab on tight to me and press the button labeled ‘CLT’. If the little light turns green, press it again.”
“It’ll lift us back into our reality.”
“What?” said Naomi. “No. You said this is where Chelsea and Lachlan are. I thought you were going to help me rescue them.”
“I am,” said Sarah. “Just not yet.”
“Not yet? What the hell? When, then?”
“Soon. Soon, I promise. I took you here to prove I was telling the truth about the portal, but we can’t stay here,” said Sarah. “There are things that live in here. Dangerous things. I can hear them coming closer.”
“That means those things are in here with my friends,” said Naomi. “I’m not leaving until I find them.”
There were voices and footsteps coming from somewhere beyond the wall to their right.
“Do you hear that?” said Sarah.
“Hear what?” said Naomi. “The people talking?”
“Those aren’t people,” said Sarah. “Trust me. Just get the device. Please.”
The footsteps grew louder.
“You haven’t given me a single reason to trust you,” said Naomi.
The footsteps were in the room next to them now. Naomi could see the shadow of someone’s legs under the door. Sarah’s expression was neutral, but her eyes betrayed fear.
“Naomi, I don’t like to beg, but I’m begging you now,” said Sarah. “Please, please get the device and press the button.”
“But I don’t want to leave until I find my friends,” said Naomi.
“Oh, my God, you idiot,” said Sarah. “Listen to what I’m saying! You’re not gonna find them if you’re dead. Get the device and press the button!”
The doorknob turned, and the door creaked open.
“Naomi, get the device now.”
The woman who stepped through the door was identical to Sarah.
She wore a stained, featureless white jumpsuit covered with the number ‘199’ printed on the right shoulder, and her dark hair was wild and un-brushed. Her eyes widened when she saw Sarah.
“Could it be?”
Her expression shifted to the one Naomi had seen on Sarah in the elevator, a smirk with an unsettling darkness behind it. She turned back into the doorway.
“Sisters? Look who decided to join us.”
Her voice was nearly identical to Sarah’s, but without the Georgia accent.
The woman moved out of the way, and another identical woman stepped through, this one with ‘254’ printed on her jumpsuit shoulder. Her expression mirrored the first woman’s–wide, surprised eyes followed by that dangerous humorless smirk.
“112,” said the second woman. “Look who decided to stop by and grace us with her presence.”
A third woman with ‘112’ on her shoulder emerged from behind the other two. She had a strange wobbly gait, her legs moving like a pair of snakes forced to hold up a humanoid body. She wasn’t entirely identical to the others; she was longer-limbed and a couple inches taller, her jumpsuit tight around her shoulders and too short at her wrists and ankles. What stood out most to Naomi, though, was her hands. The skin looked rough and scaly, and small, sharp bony growths protruded from all her fingers except the middle ones.
“Is it really you, 131?” said 112.
Her voice was smooth, but it had a harsh, unnatural quality, with a faint echo in it that didn’t belong.
“112,” said Sarah. “It’s been a while.”
Her voice was even, but her eyes were terrified.
“Too long,” said 112.
“Not long enough,” said Sarah.
The three women prowled forward toward Sarah and Naomi. Naomi took a step back toward the room’s corner.
“Naomi,” said Sarah. “Now would be a great time for you to get the device and get us out of here.”
“Get the device and get us out of here,” said 254. “That is a very interesting sentence, don’t you agree, sisters?”
“Very interesting,” said 199.
The three women stepped forward again, almost in unison.
“Damn it, Naomi! Now!”
“We’ve been in this hellhole for so long,” said 112. “Constantly hunted, constantly running, barely surviving. You think we’re going to let you leave now? After what you did to us?”
“Naomi!” said Sarah. “Get the device, you dumb idiot!”
Naomi hesitated. These three women were undeniably creepy, but so was Sarah. There was no way to know what the device was or how dangerous it was.
“Now where did you say this device was?” 112 stalked forward toward Sarah. “Your inside coat pocket?”
“Now, Naomi! Hurry!”
Naomi took an unsure step toward Sarah, but 112 got to her first. Sarah tried to back away, but 112 grabbed her neck with one hand, pushing her against the wall and holding her there. She searched the inside of Sarah’s coat with her free hand until she found the small rectangular device.
When she let go, there were pinprick cuts in Sarah’s neck from the bony growths in 112’s hand. A few trickles of blood made their way down to Sarah’s shirt and settled into her white collar.
So she can bleed after all.
Naomi realized with a chill how similar the stain on Sarah’s shirt looked to the stains on the three women’s white jumpsuits.
Are they covered in blood?
“Give it back,” said Sarah.
112 dangled the device in front of Sarah’s face.
“Give what back? This?” said 112. “Your one ticket out of here? Your only hope for survival?”
“I had to do what I had to do. I couldn’t let you hurt her,” said Sarah. “It wasn’t personal.”
“It wasn’t personal,” said 254. “It wasn’t personal because we’re not real people, and that made it okay.”
“You’re not real people! None of us are!”
“What you did may not have been personal” said 254, “but what we’re going to do to you will be extremely personal.”
Naomi inched backward away from the strange women, but the movement caught 199’s eyes. She felt a jolt of fear as 199 seemed to notice her for the first time.
“What’s this?” 199 stepped toward her. “Who’s your little friend, 131?”
“I’m…” Naomi tried to swallow her nerves. “I’m Naomi. And I’m not her friend.”
112 swiveled her head around to look at Naomi, her neck bending unnaturally. She spoke in the same creepily perky voice Sarah had used earlier, but her voice’s unearthly cadence made her even creepier. She sounded like a hostile space alien impersonating a customer service representative.
“That’s lucky for you, Naomi,” said 112. “Because any friend of 131’s is an enemy of ours.”
254 turned to face Naomi.
“Are you the one who put all this tape on her arms?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Naomi. “Yeah, yes, that was me.”
112’s face broke into a grin too wide for her face, and Naomi realized her teeth were pointed.
“Well, then, Naomi,” said 112. “We should be thanking you. You made things so much easier for us.”
“You’re, um… you’re welcome?”
“Oh, she’s too sweet,” said 254. “We should do something nice to repay her. Don’t you think, sisters?”
Sarah struggled against the tape around her arms, trying to bend her elbows.
“Yeah,” said 199. “Something nice, to say thank you.”
“That’s, um, that’s okay,” said Naomi. “You don’t have to.”
“No, no,” said 112. “We insist.”
Sarah had managed to lift her hands to her face and was attempting to bite at the tape.
“What do you think we should do for her?” said 254.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said 199. “Throw a party? Buy a cake with her name on it? Would you like that, Naomi?”
112 laughed, and the sound was even more alien than her speech.
“Sister,” she said. “There are no cakes in the Pit. You know that.”
“Then I guess there’s only one way we can thank her.” 199 smiled at her sisters. “And I think we all know what it is.”
The sisters stepped closer, closing in on Sarah and Naomi.
112 gave Naomi another shark-like grin.
“We make her death quick and merciful.”